Crossing Colorado by mountain bike
Editor’s Note: Words and photos are by Russell Finsterwald of SRAM-TLD Racing. Nice work out there, Russell.
Just under 90 miles and 12 hours since I left the previous night’s camp, I reach my patch of dirt for the night. I’m soaked and hungry, but more proud than ever for what I’ve accomplished thus far. I haven’t had cell service in over two days. I’ve seen more moose than people, but I have never felt so alive. After five dawn-to-dusk pushes, I’m a full day ahead of schedule and I have still two, possibly three, hearty days of traversing my way across the San Juan Mountains to Durango, Colorado.
As I eat my dehydrated lasagna by the campfire under the light rain, I reflect on the past five days of riding and the terrain I’ve covered. Prior to this trip on the Colorado Trail, the longest I had ever ridden my mountain bike was just over seven hours, and I’d never done a mountain bike ride over 80 miles. My shortest day so far on this trip has been eight hours of actual moving time. I’m now 365 miles into the journey and have put in over 50,000 feet of climbing over the course of those five days.
Like any good adventure, not everything goes to plan. Having a SRAM Eagle drivetrain on my Scott Spark 900 was a huge advantage for this diverse and challenging terrain. Climbing up relentless climbs on a bike weighted with bags full of camping gear meant plenty of time in the giant 50-tooth cog paired with a 32t single chainring. On the opposite end, all that weight and its momentum help me crush the downhills. Several reroutes around wilderness areas allowed me to put in some big mile days on which I was thankful to have the range to keep pedaling on the fast fire road sections.
Just five days (and a few rushed Amazon camping gear purchases) after deciding I was going to ride the Colorado Trail, I set out on Day 1 with more ignorance than knowledge of what bike packing entailed. Learning to handle a bike fully loaded with gear came quickly and, to my surprise, the descending was much more fun than I’d imagined. Happily, I felt more connected to a trail than ever before.
After originally departing the Front Range just southwest of Denver, I rolled into Bailey, Colorado, after five hours of riding. By this point, most of my typical training rides would have been complete. But in order to reach my goal for the day, I still had more than 20 miles left to ride. I knew I was going to be riding my bike a lot in order to make it to Durango in 8 days, but this is where the realization set in as to just how long each day was going to be.
When the ride time reached eight hours, I set up camp partway up Kenosha pass. I fell asleep listening to the pitter-patter of rain on the tent, coyotes howling in the night, and elk bugling in the valley below. This solo adventure was going to push my comfort levels on many levels and sleeping alone in the night was one of those. Yet the sleep was amazing, and I woke up feeling excited and refreshed for Day 2.
A couple weeks prior, I’d raced the Breck Epic in Breckenridge, Colorado. Day 2 covered a few of the trails we’d raced during that event. In an effort to finish each stage as quickly as possible, I didn’t get to soak in the views and enjoy the trail at a comfortable pace. So needless to say, this time around, I was looking forward to that. I climbed three 12,000-plus-foot passes on day two, riding a mix of new trails and familiar ones. I reached camp that night between Searle Pass and Kokomo Pass, above tree line, just as the last rays of light hit the surrounding peaks and alpenglow began to creep its way up.